Father Mac’s ‘heavenly’ puddings were a recipe that was ultimately too successful for charities
Workers with two of the last Father Mac’s Heavenly Christmas Puddings. (ABC North Coast: Leah White)
A fundraising Christmas pudding project in northern New South Wales has become so popular it is now beyond the capacity of its volunteer workers, who have had to call it day.
Nearly four decades on, and more than a million of Father Mac’s Heavenly Puddings have been sold, paying for the rebuild of the local St Joseph’s primary school, and supporting aid projects around the world.
This is the last Christmas that Father Mac’s Heavenly Puddings will be sold, as the four-decade-old tradition comes to a close. (Supplied: Alstonville Parish)
It is a bittersweet final Christmas for an iconic pudding that started as a simple cake stall, to raise funds for a dilapidated school building in the small town of Alstonville on the NSW north coast.
The pudding’s success, has ultimately been its unravelling.
Caretaker manager Tanya Pagotto said the popularity of the pudding meant the Alstonville Parish had to decide whether to expand, or farewell the popular Christmas tradition for good.
“It was just either time to expand and move, or shut down,” she said.
“Being here where it is, is the essence of the parish. The volunteers would not have moved onto a bigger premises away from where they were familiar with.
“They were the special ingredient of the puddings, so it was too hard to try to re-establish somewhere else.”
Adding to the decision were dwindling volunteer numbers, increased insurance and safety compliance costs, and difficulty finding seasonal staff.
Alstonville Parish volunteers have been helping to make Father Mac’s Heavenly Puddings since the 1980s, filling as many as 65,000 orders in a single year. (Supplied: Alstonville Parish)
How the heavenly pudding began
Long-time volunteer and former manager Beverley Creathar said the business began when Alstonville became a standalone parish after splitting with nearby Ballina in 1981.
“We had lots of old buildings and no money, so we had to set about applying for grants and there were none available,” she said.
The Parish’s first Priest, Father Darcy McCarthy, was a passionate cook, and decided a cake stall could help raise some of the much-needed funds.
When the orders reached 11,000 puddings in a single year, Father Mac — who had been hand-mixing ingredients and waking up several times a night to top up water — finally called for back-up.
An army of volunteers and an industrial cooker were brought in to cope with the ever-increasing demand.
“One year we got up to 65,000 puddings,” Ms Creathar said.
“For me personally it was always the mix of people who came along to help; that and our quality ingredients, I think, made our puddings special and no-one else could replicate them.”
The long-lasting legacy of the Christmas treat
Father Darcy McCarthy began making puddings as a hobby to raise funds for the Alstonville Parish school. Today, the legacy of Father Mac’s Heavenly Puddings has supported dozens of charities around the world. (Supplied: Alstonville Parish)
The heavenly pudding that was originally sold to raise funds to “support the worst school in the parish” has far exceeded all expectations.
Once the school was repaired, surplus funds went to local, national and international charities.
Locally, the puddings supported soup kitchens, community groups and victims of natural disasters.
Further abroad, the puddings paid for a water well in Ghana, AIDS education in Zimbabwe, and wheelchairs in Cambodia — to name a few.
“It’s gone well beyond what Father McCarthy would have intended the puddings to do,” Ms Pagotto said.
“If he could see now what it’s achieved, I think he’d be very proud of what he established in the Alstonville Parish.”
The end in sight: caretaker manager Tanya Pagotto and long-time volunteer Beverley Creathar with two of the last Father Mac’s Heavenly Christmas Puddings. (ABC North Coast: Leah White)